194. Memorandum for the Record1


  • Conversation with Yugoslav Ambassador Bogdan Crnobrnja on Monday, September 23, 1968

When I went to the International Club to hear Ambassador Bohlen on Czechoslovakia, I happened to sit next to Ambassador Crnobrnja. The Ambassador invited me to join him for supper after the speech.

Ambassador Crnobrnja liked Mr. Bohlen’s remarks—saying he was not surprised by them. When he pressed me for amplification of our policy toward the Czech crisis, I asked what he thought our policy should be. Ambassador Crnobrnja said we should work for a broad settlement of outstanding world issues, and move vigorously to prevent a return [Page 516] to the Cold War. We should seek a Vietnam settlement—for which we need a bombing halt, move toward a resolution of the Mid-East impasse, and advance on the disarmament front. Crnobrnja said he realized some of these prescriptions would be hard to take.

On Vietnam, I said I was pretty sure American policy would be decided on its own merits and not linked to Czechoslovakia. Ambassador Crnobrnja said he had heard rumors very recently of some sort of understanding with the Soviets. I said that, so far as I knew, these were entirely untrue. Earlier reports along these lines were categorically denied by Secretary Rusk.

Crnobrnja asked me what kind of role I thought the Soviets might play in a Vietnam settlement. I said I didn’t know; but I was personally skeptical that the Soviets would force Hanoi’s hand. I remarked that Hanoi must even now be considering whether to negotiate this fall with this Administration, or wait until next spring. How they would decide, I didn’t know. Ambassador Crnobrnja remarked that he thought the North Vietnamese were seriously interested in a solution, but had a problem of confidence. I said I did not know the details of the Paris negotiation, but I was sure the other side knew how to make the seriousness of its interest clear if it really wanted to move forward.

Regarding the Middle East, I said it sometimes looked as if we were expected simply to force the Israelis back to the June 4 lines.2 Crnobrnja said that might be the Arab point of view, but he would not recommend it. He thought Nasser would also have to make real policy changes. (Crnobrnja seemed cool to Nasser. This may have been a reflection of Yugoslav annoyance at Nasser’s reaction to the Czechoslovak invasion.)

Crnobrnja said we should pursue a policy of détente. When I pressed him, he seemed to be talking more about détente with Yugoslavia and the Third World than an immediate return to easy relations with the invading powers. He asked how worried I thought Yugoslavia should be, I said I thought Yugoslavia’s position was different from Czechoslovakia’s. After all, even Stalin had stopped short of military intervention. Yugoslavia had been non-aligned for 20 years. During that time the U.S. had given extensive economic and even military assistance. The Balkan Pact was probably a complicating factor in Russian thinking. (Crnobrnja promptly affirmed that it was still in effect.) Nevertheless, I realize a lot of things have come unstuck in Eastern Europe.

Crnobrnja remarked on the signs of dissension and instability in the Soviet Politburo, but did not offer any specifics. He said that an indication of US support, interest and concern for Yugoslavia would be very [Page 517] helpful. In this connection he mentioned the arrival in Washington this weekend of Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Kiro Gligorov. While the formal purpose of Gligorov’s trip is to attend meetings of the Bank and Fund, Crnobrnja made clear that the Yugoslav government was taking advantage of the occasion to send over a high-level official. He left the impression the Yugoslav government would appreciate a high-level reception. In response to my question, Crnobrnja said he did not have “any instructions” as to whether it was hoped Gligorov could see Secretary Rusk or the President. I said I could not speak for the attitude of senior US personalities, but I know that whatever appointments Mr. Gligorov requested would be most seriously considered. (The following day Crnobrnja called me, saying he had just received a telegram that morning indicating that Gligorov would like to meet Americans at the Cabinet level and also Walt Rostow if that were possible. I asked the Ambassador if he were conveying his request to the State Department, and he said yes, of course.) Crnobrnja gave no indication Gligorov was likely to request military assistance. What he talked about was general support and economic relations.

Crnobrnja said there were a few matters which he was reluctant to mention—but US action would be very helpful. He said a Soviet request for four sonars was pending, and the Yugoslav government would be most appreciative if a way could be found to furnish them. The Mother and Child hospital has also been long pending. Crnobrnja said it would be very helpful if the US government could be more liberal in the use of dinars. (Crnobrnja did not elaborate on what he had in mind.) Lastly, the Ambassador said the Yugoslav government was pleased and gratified at the attitude shown by the IBRD and the Export-Import Bank. He hoped the US government would continue to keep a benign eye on this area of economic collaboration.

Crnobrnja was agitated at the activities of Serb and Croat emigres. He said we had succeeded in damping down emigre denunciations of the Yugoslav government for a period of time after the bombing of the Embassy and Consulates. This showed we could do something if we really tried. I questioned whether we could do very much, and suggested that it may have been the emigres themselves who had pulled in their horns.

Crnobrnja said many Yugoslavs—including his predecessor—had been disturbed over what they regarded as an American tendency to doubt that Yugoslavia was really independent and non-aligned. The Czech crisis had proved Yugoslav independence of action once again. I said the American government had never doubted this. The only time I could remember when there was concern about the balance and stability of Yugoslav policy was during a period of a month or two after the Mid-East war. We had the impression the Yugoslavs may have over-reacted to [Page 518] developments in Greece and elsewhere at the time. Crnobrnja promptly filled in the missing details, including fear of the Italian military dispositions, etc. He said he realized that there had been an over-reaction.

Crnobrnja mentioned the slow decline of US economic assistance. I said this was not a reflection of a change in US attitude. Partly it was a reflection of increasing Yugoslav economic success and self-reliance.

Crnobrnja observed that—even with its non-aligned posture—Yugoslavia was of some help to the West. For example, Italy must feel more secure with no Soviet naval base in the Bay of Kotor. Crnobrnja remarked somewhat gloomily that the Soviets were a great deal less understanding than the Americans. It was hard to be a small country.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Yugoslavia, Cables. Confidential. Drafted by Nathaniel Davis on September 26. Copies were sent to Rostow, Ash, and Lisle.
  2. Reference is to the borders existing between Israel and neighboring Arab states of United Arab Republic, Syria, and Jordan before the “Six-Day War” (June 5–11, 1967).